Aurelio Vidmar leaves Bangkok Glass, but was Socceroos' legend sacked?
In the days before he became a trailblazing foreign coach in Asia, Aurelio Vidmar was a flamboyant attacking midfielder, with shoulder-length hair like a rock star, who surely thought that he'd helped book Australia's place at the 1998 World Cup.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the dramatic playoff against Iran in Melbourne where Vidmar's second goal just after half-time, to follow up Harry Kewell's opener, gave the Socceroos a seemingly unassailable 3-1 lead on aggregate.
But instead of becoming one of Australia's most joyous sporting moments, it turned into its most painful. The Iranians scored twice in the last 15 minutes to force a 3-3 scoreline, and progress to France '98 on the away goals' rule.
Football was cruel to Vidmar two decades ago, and it must have seemed equally unfair last week when his Thai club Bangkok Glass (BGFC) announced that they were parting ways with him.
"By mutual consent" was the official line coming from the club, suggesting that management and Vidmar had amicably decided to go in separate directions because they politely agreed to disagree on football matters.
"Vidmar's tenure was brought to the end after BGFC deemed that the 50-year-old Australian did not feature in the team's plans for next season, due to the difference in direction under which to take the club in the long term," read a statement on the official website of Bangkok Glass.
However, sources tell ESPN FC that the break up was anything but mutual, and that Vidmar was intending to stay beyond the end of the current season, having been assured less than a month ago that his employers were happy with the job he was doing.
Bangkok Glass' 16th manager in just a decade, he leaves with the club in fifth position on the table, 10 points behind leaders Buriram United. Having taken over last August, he helped the Glass Rabbits to third spot in 2016, their best finish since 2009.
After a shaky start to the year in which they lost 4-0 to defending champions Muang Thong United and drew 0-0 with bottom feeders Super Power, Vidmar had turned things around. They handed leaders Buriram United their only 2017 league defeat in May, and had built an impressive record at home, despite injuries, at different times, to key imports Ariel Rodriguez, Daniel Rodriguez and Matt Smith.
Smith, of course, is a former A-League rival of Vidmar who won three A-League titles with Brisbane Roar, including two as captain. Skippering Bangkok Glass, having arrived in late 2014, he seemed like the perfect on-field lieutenant for ex-Adelaide United boss in the tough 18-team T1.
But far greater than any opponent was the internal challenge of dealing with Pavin Bhirombhakdi, the volatile president of Bangkok Glass. According to sources within the club, Pavin has been trying to influence team selections, formations and substitutions from midway through this season.
For Vidmar, who helped a low-budget, no-nonsense Adelaide become the first Australian team to make the final of the AFC Asian Champions League in 2008, this must have felt very uncomfortable. Occasionally, A-League owners will offer their two cents worth on player recruitment, but rarely will they give ongoing input about strategy and tactics.
Vidmar declined to give ESPN FC his side of the story, but hinted at trouble behind the scenes on Twitter when he said: "Performance = Potential + Behaviour Minus Interference."
Performance =— Aurelio Vidmar (@Viddie67) July 11, 2017
Potential + Behaviour
The tipping point may have been the 5-4 defeat away to arch rivals Bangkok United earlier this month. Bangkok Glass had led 3-1 just before the hour, and were 4-3 up going into added time. As impressive as Vidmar's side were on the synthetic pitch of the Leo Stadium, they often showed frailties on the road, and this loss underlined that.
Even so, Vidmar had done well enough, with fewer resources than big-spending Muang Thong, Buriram and Chiang Rai United, to justify seeing out the rest of the season. The local players, in particular, responded well to him. But now, the former Australia Under-23 coach, and ex-assistant to Asian Cup-winning boss Ange Postecoglou, faces an uncertain future.
With his hair now conservatively coiffed, he cuts a more serious figure today than during his playing prime when he featured in 25 games in La Liga with Tenerife between 1996 and 1998, and was top goal scorer -- from midfield -- in the Belgian first division with Standard Liege in the 1994-95 season.
His 44 caps and 17 goals during a decade with the national team saw him inducted into Australian football's hall of fame in 2008.
Yet, the bitter irony is that he and younger brother Tony, a defender with Rangers and Cardiff City, never featured in the World Cup finals. Tony played an important role as Australia beat Uruguay in a playoff to qualify for Germany 2006, but had to pull out of the tournament due to an irregular heart rhythm, detected in a standard fitness test.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Aurelio may one day coach an Asian side in the World Cup, given the high regard in which he's held in the region. After all, he was Socceroos' caretaker boss for the 3-0 victory over Canada in 2013 after the sacking of Holger Osieck until Postecoglou took over.
As unexpected as his exit from Bangkok Glass has been, he will be hopeful of swift return to management in Thailand, or elsewhere in the AFC region. Iran's miracle of Melbourne in November 1997 -- however painful for those on the receiving end -- proves that anything is possible in football.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.